As a slight diversion from politics and scandal, I don’t know if anyone that follows my blog reads the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I first read The Hobbit when I was six years old, and it was all downhill from that point. I currently have the habit of alternating fiction and nonfiction, as reading any one genre for too long tends to wear on me a bit. Also, my appetite for reading is a bit voracious – I once described it as “chugging” books – so I’m always looking for new authors.
However, I don’t know if you’ve noticed how few really quality female fantasy authors there are. In many cases, even if the authors were probably talented, I was just never able to relate to the characters the women wrote – they were all somehow too stereotypically “feminine” to me with far more introspection and emotional reaction to every situation than I ever experienced.
Male authors are often little better. There are authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, who just avoided the issue almost completely, and only really told the story from the point of male protagonists with very few female characters. Even The Silmarillion focuses greatly on fathers and their sons, both of Elves and Men.
Then there are others that seem to have no subtle gradients between the haughty, cold, beautiful princess that is eventually swayed by the heroes good will, or the tomboy sidekick that makes sarcastic comments and keeps the male protagonist “in check.” Then you have the female antagonists, who are invariably of the dominatrix mode, and almost always wear red leather and carry some sort of magical whip-like weapon. If an evil person wants to threaten a female character, they simply threaten them with sexual abuse and even the most powerful Sorceress quake in her boots and give up the fight.
Also, so many authors turn to blatant preaching and politicizing in their books when they run out of plot points, but still have books remaining in the series. I don’t know if anyone ever read the Sword of Truth, but while I loved the series in the beginning, it turned into a series largely about sexual warfare and preaching Ayn Randian philosophy. And I love Ayn Rand, but it was just…too much. And it isn’t what I want when I’m reading my escapist fantasy novels.
There is one author that I have found that breaks that mold, though. My favorite contemporary fantasy author is Brandon Sanderson, author of the Mistborn trilogy and the new Stormlight Archive series, which will probably be completed by the time I’m sixty. Perhaps. Hey, it’s something to look forward to until it concludes!
Brandon Sanderson teaches periodically at Brigham Young, but he seems to spend most of his time writing about five different stories at any given time, each with some of the most complex but not confusing backgrounds I’ve seen since Tolkien. He gives the worlds a richness without heavy-handed words – although The Way of Kings was 1,252 pages – and manages to make every character so unique while being grounded in a really earthy authenticity. If you took these characters out of the pages, stripped them of powers, and dropped them on Earth, their personalities would still shine through.
In fact, when Robert Jordan realized that he was not going to make it to the end of the Wheel of Time series, Brandon Sanderson was the author that he called. Apparently, he was Jordan’s wife’s favorite author. Robert Jordan created outlines for the remaining story lines, and Sanderson took those outlines and finished the series. He also receives praise from Orson Scott Card for his writing – he’s the “fantasy author’s fantasy author” in a sense. He also has a fantastic grasp of his audience, and is very free in sharing his philosophies and “laws” of writing. Societies have a well-developed and logical social structure, even magic has an almost scientific quality to it that definitely appeals to the linear side of my mind as well as the creative.
And what’s more, he turns female fantasy tropes on their heads without making them satiric. Take the major characters in Mistborn. Without spoiling any plotlines, the female protagonist is a street child who is discovered to have powers. She’s tough without being strictly masculine, she has a youthful resilience but an equal amount of self-consciousness and vulnerability given her situation, and she does have emotions but isn’t overly sentimental, and doesn’t become useless and despondent with grief or love. I admit I tend to have a much more aggressive, typically “masculine” mindset, but the female characters that Sanderson writes are just much more relatable to me, and his male and female characters are both such great standalone characters with or without love interests, which seems to be where most authors turn when they are out of plot ideas.
The other side of the coin, the male “love interest,” if you will, for the protagonist in Mistborn is a young noble. He’s grown up in privilege, and displays shallow tendencies, but has a good heart as well as much more intellect than he displays. He’s actually intelligent in the nobility game, and knows how the system works, rather than just blindly and ignorantly stumbling through everything. He seems like any young, wealthy upper class man you would meet. He’s entirely believable, and when you get into the story, he and the female protagonist are also believable as a pairing.
So, I don’t know if you have any interest in the fantasy genre, but if you do, I highly recommend Brandon Sanderson. I started trying to move through Wheel of Time again to get to the stories he authored, and I am going to be rereading The Way of Kings again soon. Or you can wait until I finally have time to sit down and write the series I have been developing for ten years now – it will be worth the wait, I promise!